Today we read of Jesus on the Cross. “The chief priests and the rulers and the people” (Luke 23:13) opposed Pilate’s decision to release him so he gave in and “delivered Jesus over to their will”. He was crucified between two criminals and one of these derided him saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us”, but the other rebuked him saying, “we are receiving the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong” (verses 39,41). Then he makes a request to Jesus which, together with Jesus’ answer, is widely misunderstood.
He says, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. And Jesus says to him, ‘Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise’” (verses 42,43). We have quoted exactly as in the Bible (ESV) with one little exception, we have put the comma after the word ‘today’ instead of before it. The original Greek has no punctuation so translators use their own judgement as to how to punctuate the text when rendering it in English and nearly all of them get it wrong here.
The question the criminal asked indicates he knew the teachings of Jesus but had turned to bad ways: maybe he knew the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth …” (Matthew 6:10).The word ‘paradise’ means a garden, a park – the Garden of Eden was a paradise. The whole world will become like the Garden of Eden when Jesus sets up God’s kingdom. Jesus promised, “to the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
It is obvious that Jesus is not referring to heaven when he made this promise. After he came out of the tomb he said to Mary Magdalene, “I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). On the cross the criminal re-established his relationship with Jesus because of his faith – and for that reason he received this promise of a place in the paradise of God’s kingdom. He had remarkable faith in the future that awaited Jesus when the disciples had lost theirs!
Note the mistake some make in saying that since this repentant criminal was not baptized, baptism is not essential. They forget that baptism is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus as Paul makes plain in Romans 6:3-8. Baptism became essential after the resurrection of Jesus. Those who only knew the baptism of John had to be rebaptised (see Acts 19:3-5) The whole world is to become a paradise! What wonders await all who will be with Jesus then! Will you be with him in paradise?